Somali peace talks put off

Talks aimed at averting all-out war between Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts and the weak interim government have been postponed, heightening fears of a conflict that could engulf the whole region.

    Islamic Courts' fighters control most of southerrn Somalia

    After an intense last-ditch intervention by diplomats attempting to convince the government to accept a postponement in negotiations proposed by the Islamic Courts, the mediators said on Wednesday the talks had been placed on indefinite hold.
    "It was commonly established and agreed that there is a need for further consultation on both substantive and procedural issues to move the dialogue forward," they said in a joint statement, urging restraint on both sides.
    "The Somali parties are urged to exercise full restraint and to commit themselves to their previous agreements reached in Khartoum," it said, referring to two much-violated previous accords.
    The statement said mediators and international observers "commit themselves to assisting the Somali parties in sustaining their talks in Khartoum as soon as possible upon consultation with all the parties."



    The talks, which had been due to start in the Sudanese capital on Monday, never got off the ground, with the Islamic Courts refusing to meet the government unless troops from neighbouring Ethiopia allegedly in Somalia are withdrawn.
    The Islamic Courts had also demanded the removal of Kenya as co-mediator of the negotiations, accusing its other main neighbour of bias for backing, along with Ethiopia, a government appeal for regional peacekeepers.
    Diplomats said the government turned down an Islamic Courts' call for a delay to allow an international fact-finding mission to determine whether Ethiopia and its arch-foe Horn of Africa neighbour Eritrea had troops in Somalia.



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